desire for justice, mixed with passion and determination, runs thick through Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge’s veins. At an age when others might think of cutting back on their activities, this brave woman who stood up to a president and later refused to be the head of the ANC’s parliamentary caucus has just taken on her next challenge.
“I want to help rebuild civil society organisations in South Africa,” says Madlala-Routledge on her 63rd birthday as she takes on the mantle of executive director of Inyathelo.
The NGO aims to build a vibrant democracy and Madlala-Routledge has spent her life fighting for a more just world. So it is a coming together of a great need with a strong resource. She, like Nelson Mandela, embodies Inyathelo, named after a concept that is a combination of ubuntu and philanthropy.
Many South Africans who never thought of justice or morality now reach for it in the ruins of Marikana and the wake of our government flouting its own laws in favour of Sudan’s president, Omar al-Bashir.
As we chat over coffee, it’s hard to believe this dignified, delightful and quietly spoken woman once travelled surrounded by sirens and motorcades in her roles as deputy minister of defence and health.
She’s not the type to miss them. She has a “roll up your sleeves and let’s do it” personality.
“In any vibrant democracy, you need the elected representatives – parliamentarians – to be accountable to those who voted for them. It’s the duty of civil society to ensure that happens,” she says.
She defines civil society as “the nongovernmental sector ... churches, media, arts, sports and business, to a variety of associations. If we don’t keep elected representatives accountable, democracy will fail. Then the government can do what it wants.”
As an MP, Madlala-Routledge always kept her doors wide open to civil society, called herself an activist and marched to Parliament on the issue of ending violence against women.
“Even as I sat in Parliament making laws, I needed to stand alongside the people I was representing,” she explains.
Inyathelo: The SA Institute for Advancement has pioneered the development of a philanthropic movement here. It provides information on how to access and sustain funding for thousands of civil society organisations and universities.
Madlala-Routledge accepted an offer to apply for her new post “because civil society is facing new challenges. International donor funding is no longer secure, government support has decreased and there is a continuous drain in the leadership pool.”
She talks about the millions of South Africans who go to bed hungry, about money being wasted, collapsing bridges and schools not being built, and says “that’s why I appreciate organisations like Equal Education and Right2Know”.
“They’re calling for transparency from the government.”
At Inyathelo’s new, bright building in Woodstock, Cape Town, organisations looking for donor funds are able to access the correct sites, enlist in programmes such as Get Resourceful, and share ideas and tips on how to make their outfits more visible.
The feisty woman grew up in Umzumbe, rural KwaZulu-Natal, in a poor family, “but in a community that had intrinsic values at its core”.
It was her upbringing, her
WARRIOR Nozizwe MadlalaRoutledge